PART 2: MATERIAL PROPERTIES -project 3 Narrative


Project 3: Narrative

…experiment with the expressive potential of a range of materials and then make a selection to create a piece where the materials contribute significantly to the way the piece is read…”

“Think of a person you have strong feelings about. Find an object or item of clothing that reminds you of that person. Make a piece of artwork that uses the object to provide the imagery but uses the materials to give the viewer a sense of the person.”


A fascinating project!

I needed to ‘feel’ my way into this project and started with lots of different implements, just playing to see how they projected an emotion. I drew with the end of a stick, with knitted wire, applied watercolour with a comb and a toothbrush, scrapped with the end of a peg. I used the pencil in different ways, creating softness, hardness, mystery. I experimented with shavings – from chalk, charcoal on different surfaces, shavings of oil pastels. I thought about the expressive use of line – thin, thick, slightly smudged – drawing without looking but in response to thought.

I decided to use members of my family as subjects for creating an art piece, using an object for imagery and materials to express a sense of each individual. Once again I had to think my way into this so I began with a piece about my husband. I found that you had to think very deeply about the individual in order to do this work. It was very evident that any individual is not simply two-dimensional but consists of layer upon layer of different qualities, abilities, likes, dislikes etc. So as I began drawing the first layer, I found myself immediately adding another layer, then another, then tearing the layers back to reveal connections with previous qualities. The main object in the piece is an antique bucket which for me symbolizes the individual. I’ve used a whole lot of different materials, each one selected for its relevance to my husband’s character. As I worked it was clear that I saw him in terms of texture rather than line or shape and so the piece has a strong textural quality. The idea of layering was intriguing and it carried over into a second piece.


My second piece was focused on my younger son, now a man in his forties. The object I took to provide the imagery was a pair of his baby shoes which for some reason I’ve kept.


In order to feel my way I began with two sketches of the image. It was remarkably difficult to achieve the ‘baby quality’ of the boots, mainly evident in the short stubby toes. I started with pencil and rubber until I felt the image showing itself. The second study explored the joy of the individual through the use of line. I drew very freely with flowing lines in charcoal and then added ink with the bamboo pen. I love using the pen as it allows for such freedom in the line. I felt this study worked very well and suggests the activity, energy and joy that the individual expresses.


However, the idea of layering in the expression of individual character continued with me and so I worked on another study, this time preparing the drawing surface with three layers of different paper each of which was stuck down. I then began to make marks by tearing through the papers. Tearing as a mark making technique was fascinating! But the important point here is that while I was tearing, my whole thought was centred on my son – I wasn’t just tearing haphazardly. I was thinking about him and yet not attempting to tear away shapes which suggested him. As I examined the image, I found that aspects of his character and life were emerging – his joyful ‘bunny hopping’ attitude to life, his deep love for cats, his affinity to words and poetry – this amazed me! I began to get a glimpse of what I can only describe as ‘the thinking hand’.


I then added drawings of the boots in pencil . These are difficult to see but I felt that to darken them would detract from the torn images so I have left it. The idea of tearing through layers of character continued in thought and I explored further the idea of tearing through magazine pages. I love the effect of this but didn’t feel it was going to add anything to depicting my son’s character.



As I write this, it really doesn’t include the enormous amount of thinking time which happens at each step of such a project. An hour can pass in just sitting and looking at the image to see the next step. At this point of experimenting, I wasn’t convinced that the boots were the correct image and so I moved away from this idea to explore the idea of text as an image. His favourite book is ‘The Snow Leopard’ by Peter Matthiessen and I took a special piece of text which he had given me many years before and spent a day thinking about how to build an art piece around this. The idea was exciting but I felt that time constraints on this module was not going to allow me to do the necessary preparatory work needed. Part of this would be to research artists who use text in order to put this into context but I was running out of time. So this is one of the ideas which is stowed away to explore at a later time.


This took me back to the boots and it was interesting that having put them on one side for a period, I found renewed interest and energy when I went back to them. I decided to abandon the layering idea for the moment and simply express his character through drawing. The first piece is done with charcoal and a rubber and then ink and bamboo pens. By this stage I was loving the shapes of the boots and was just drawing so freely. I went very dark with the charcoal to suggest the earthiness of this character and his ability to tackle whatever is thrown at him.



The second piece takes another aspect of his character which is the fanciful, the fun-loving, the poet. For this drawing I used two pastel pencils together, holding them both as I drew. I knew the shapes very well by now and was able to draw with such freedom. The green and blue of the pencils merge together. The free-flowing lines of the drawing were continued into the space over the surface of the paper. I then wet the paper and began to scrub at it with sandpaper. This removed the surface of the drawing in places and also merged the colours into an all-over surface treatment. I loved this effect as it was using the space as an integral part of the drawing.



Once the surface was completely dry I began again to draw the boots, still with the two pencils together. The suggestion of the previous drawing was still very faintly there and had become part of the space, suggestive of the passage of time.


Before leaving these two drawings, I explored the effect of cropping. It was interesting as a compositional exercise to examine this. I felt that the cropping of the first image was very effective and brought the boots into the whole of the picture frame. Taking out the space from the image does however take out an element of the unknown from the image.


My third piece centred on my daughter. By this stage and with all of the preparatory work and thought, ideas were flowing freely. I took as my image for her a scarf which is cut into strips and if forever becoming entangled. This object came to thought instantly as the image which most depicts her character which is one of problem solving, someone who untangles situations to restore peace and harmony. I wanted to use a soft medium so chose pan pastels and a sponge to draw with. This object was a delight to draw and the whole image came together easily. There didn’t seem to be the need to use any layering process for this individual. I have deliberately not grounded the image and have left it floating as this seemed to express the ‘light touch’ which my daughter has.




About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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